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Judy Atchinson's A Stubborn Woman
by Judy Atchinson

A Stubborn Woman

A Daily Gazette community blog
QUEST leader's wanderings and musings

Are you paying attention?

The humming birds, a small blue one and a large green one, are Miracles In My Backyard.

“And the soul quickens at hearing what it didn’t know it already knew, if holding your ground is what you are called to most days it helps to know your ground.”

“Resilience is born by grounding yourself in your own loveliness, hitting notes you thought we way out of your range.”

—Kathleen Norris

QUEST seeks to be a community of unconditional love.

Derek Walcott writes, “Either I am a nobody or I am a nation.”

Our QUEST is to be a touchstone of resilience. You discover your true self in this “nation.” Homies who grew up at QUEST always return. An old time Questor said to me once, “I just came by to get my fix.”

"Of what?” I ask him.

“Love,” he says.

Everyone is just looking to be told that who he or she is, is right and true and wholly acceptable. No need to tinker and tweak exactly right.

“You are the sky, everything else, it’s just weather.”

—Pema Chodron

“Jason’s appearance in my office was a first. Though I had known him most of his life, he was an expert at resisting my offers of help in the interim. Jason had done his share of dirt for his gang. He would rather be employed selling crack than in anything else. He was concentrated in his resistance to me. And yet there he was, that day in my office.

“Yes milago?”- “I can’t believe you're here,” I say.

Yet I could still only see the goofy kid I had met 15 years earlier, who had no recourse but to let the streets raise him.

I sent him to one of our job developers who in turn sends him to a job interview that very day. Not 2 hours later, he’s back, brimming with excitement.

He stands in the doorway of my office, “I GOT THE JOB!”

“Thats great,” I say.

“Yeah,” he says, “The manager said I fit the description.”

He’s got me here. “Well I suppose,” I say, “if you're America’s Most Wanted.” He might have said, “fit the description or did he say meet the qualifications?”

Jason convulses, giggles and slaps his forehead, “Yeah, dat one- met the qualifications-sheesh-what was I thinking, fit the description-stoopid.”

Jason stopped by often after that, “To just get his fix,” I suppose. Hoping to get an even better job, he'd get help with his resume. More often than not he’d just check in with me. This seemed easy for him, no longer saddled with the shame of his previous “knucklehead” existence he held his head high and could face me. He could gaze at himself in the mirror and not move. It had been so long (if ever) since he could do that.

“I finally realized why I was out there so long,” he tells me in one of his visits, referring to his drug dealing and his gang banging.”

“Yeah. I can see why now. It’s just, I was so f------ angry all the time.”

And of course why wouldn’t he be? Both parents were both heroin addicts, and he was left to raise himself- which kids are meant not to be good at.

“And now,” he says, “I just let it all go- the anger, I mean.”

In one of his drop-bys on a Wednesday, I ask him, “So are we all set for your daughters baptism on Saturday?”

“Oh yeah,” he says. “I bought the dress yesterday. She’s gonna look beautiful.”

The next morning on the way to a job interview for a better position, Jason was gunned down. Someone drove by and saw him and perhaps all his past had become present again. I buried him a week later and baptized his daughter at his funeral Mass. Water, oil, flame.

I landed on the gospel that I wanted to use at his liturgy. Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” I like even more what Jesus doesn’t say. He does not say, “One day, if you are more perfect and try really hard you’ll be light." He doesn’t say, “If you play by the rules, cross your T’s and dot your I’s then maybe you’ll become light.” No, he says straight out “You are light.” It is the truth of who you are, waiting only for you to discover it. So for God’s sake, don’t move. No need to contort yourself to be anything other than who you are. Jason was who he was. He made a lot of mistakes, he was not perfect, and his rage called the shots for a goodly chunk of his life. And he was the light of the world. He fit the description.”

— From "Tattoos On The Heart" by Gregory Boyle

Are you paying attention?

Are you paying attention? All of you reading this marvelous story of truth. Do you get it? All of you who judge, all of you who hold yourselves better than others. Do you understand? I am so proud to be working along side of the Latin Kings and Queens, I feel truly blessed to have this opportunity. We rescue each other in this lifetime. We take care of each other, we hold each other tight, and we are light. All of us "fit the description."

Some caring, anonymous person has been reading my blog and read about my kids with no beds. And they truly paid attention and sent me ten air mattresses, with no name attached — but still I feel as if I know you, and I am so grateful. Two of the ten air mattresses have already found homes: two young sisters living in an especially rundown and dangerous building. Paige Street — Joe do not write me about this — the whole house these children live in should be condemned and torn down. I am there twice a day, picking up and bringing home kids.

We should be ashamed of this street, not just one house but many houses with no doors and boarded-up windows. Children live here. Children grow up here. And if they become damaged whose fault is that? All of us. We avert our eyes and walk away and block it from our conscience. This is something a popsicle or a pair of socks can not fix. This is an entire life. Each child belongs to all of us. We can protest abortion, yap about food stamps and medical care. Give a toy at Christmas. Assuage our guilt. But this is an entire life, being thrown away as surely as if it has been aborted.

We plant flowers in the park, give out free lunches, but what do these children learn from this? That they are only worth one meal and not three? That the flowers are not to be touched, or brought home to give to mom? That their yard is pure dirt strewn with glass and weed bags and other nasty things?

That juice is Kool-Aid and candy is both cheap and dandy? And to be afraid of dogs, terrified not just afraid? Because afraid is reserved for walking to the store, for hearing gun shots in the night, to hear the everlasting sirens going up and down their streets, and hear the continual noise of people fighting and screaming? People: This is like living in a war zone. It is not pretty and it is not right.

Growth at QUEST

We keep growing, and I keep being astonished by the goodness of some agencies and their employees. Whitney Young is now a full fledged partner of QUEST, not Ellis or Hometown Health, but Whitney Young out of Albany. They will be sending their prevention van to our parking lot to do pregnancy, AIDS/HIV, Hepatitis C, and STD testing, hand out condoms, provide counseling, and to send people to the best medical services that they can find for their particular needs.

The difference is, and it is a big one, is that they will be coming the late evening hours. This will certainly add a tad more privacy, and more importantly they will be on the street when the after-hours hoopla will be going on. The times when drugs and sex will be rampant. This will be especially helpful for the sex trade workers and their clients. Kind of like an after-hour program for those that need it most, and not during in-your-face hours when kids are around.

There are other services geared to teens, and we already offer those. But this is for the hard cores, the neediest, and the down and outers. And the extra for QUEST is it will be as if we have a little extra security at night. Hallelujah. Plus $50 a month from Whitney Young for using our lot. This is a unique program and we are so lucky to be part of its beginnings.

I am hoping that the two working nuns of St. Joseph’s hook into this — they already work all over the city in a hands-on program with the sex trade workers. These are two truly special people. Tireless, cheerful and dedicated. Love you, ladies. The Hill needs more like you.

My only SJTA worker has arrived, a special boy, hard working and a delight. Just a kid really, but better than many adult workers I have known and used. I do know where he came from, because two of his young relatives come to QUEST. The families live on Grove Place, in the middle of all that violence nonsense in the Vale and Chestnut Street area. There were two more movie-crowd scenes last week. It’s become so commonplace, we don’t always register that it’s large group wars. But 50 to 60 people fighting in the streets is really huge, as a certain car dealer would say. And the black-and-whites and the unmarked and the undercover cars are there daily. Why did the Powers That Be close what used to be the Community Policing Station on Albany Street? Could someone please tell me where the substations are located? And please don’t mention downtown.

Downtown scene

Though the Beach Party on State does look interesting. 50 foot beach —iIs that just sand or will there be water too? Like sprinklers, etc. Now that would be special and really be something to brag on. Who is going? And what freebies will there be?

As far as the gigantic, humongous elephant in the room, on State Street bets are being taken among the underground cognoscenti on its length of operation in its current incarnation. Bars and dance clubs may be standing in the wings.

The set-up is unfortunate, as parking will be an issue, especially in the colder, wetter months. And those of us who are handicapped will be staying away in droves. A parking lot instead of a patio might have been a wise move. Who planned this building anyways? Maybe not as pretty but much more sensible. Local politicians are already muttering behind closed doors about the success quotient of this edifice. Even Bombers has that little cul-de-sac for parking.

Do we really need any more bars? The general cry is for retail. And the whole block behind Proctors is pretty much empty: one deli-restaurant moved there from Upper Union Street, and lasted barely a year, moved out to a little shopping center in Rotterdam, and subsequently went under. Too bad, it was a unique gourmet food store on Upper Union Street, where it thrived nicely. All those ribbon cuttings. Everyday it seems there is another but no funeral offering when the business dies.

There is a nice little family Spanish restaurant on Upper State, a few blocks up and across from McDonalds. It even has a parking lot. And, the chips and salsa are free and made on the spot. Those in the know go there — pols and all.

Fight on

I am increasingly disturbed about the backwards glances women are giving the past. Some of us are still pushing ahead but it’s getting to be lonely out here. Certainly what happened in the legislative rooms are heartening, but it’s simply not enough. Doesn’t anyone care about the loss of buffer zones around Planned Parenthood? Many people are now saying there is no such statement about “right to life”; that it is “the right to be born."

And I agree — I see the unwanted children everyday. When I stop by those on their knees praying at Planned Parenthood, and invite them to come and help the children of the streets, they act as if I belong in an institution. It seems to me that if we want all these children to be born, then we owe them a decent life. Yet often enough these are the same people screaming about food stamps and communism, and the most often-stated Christian Values. I simply do not get it, are Christians not about taking care of the least of us? Does that not mean the children of the streets? Abandoning them after their birth is ignorant and heartless.

Then there’s the negativity backlash on Facebook: Women smugly stating, “I turn my back on negativity.” “I only post cheerful and happy things.” REALLY!! Where would women be if our historical and strong forbears did not take off their aprons and burst out of the kitchen saying there’s work to be done. And so the marches and sit-ins and the strikes, and the joint tackling of the issues. I lived through the 60s and I participated.

From emancipation of women to people of color, that’s where we were: on the battlegrounds, joining forces with the men of conscience, singing, “We will overcome.” The beautiful candle-light vigils. The prayers, the dignity and love. Without this, there would be no birth control today. It was Rosa Parks who would not give up her seat on the bus. It was a tiny black female child who was the first to integrate a hostile black school in Georgia. Standing up for what is right has never been negative, it has been joyous and positively the right thing to do. Be you black, brown, yellow, gay, transgender, male, or even female sometimes being negative is the most positive thing you can do.

Gloria Steinham, you were right.

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